Are you happy with your MSP customer experience?

Picking up the phone every now and then, responding to calls, being attentive, delivering on promises, not hiding behind policies and procedures to do the right thing: On the surface, customer service doesn’t appear a big challenge to do well.

When purchasing teams treat the subject of customer service as something that’s assumed and taken for granted, it often gets overlooked by suppliers. Poor customer service impacts on the trust in service delivery. It erodes performance over time, and has a value-for-money consequence on programs. That’s why we encourage suppliers and procurers to raise its profile in discussions.

Agree what good customer service looks like with your MSP

To get the best out of your MSP relationship, you will never be able to enshrine every aspect of good customer service in a Service Level Agreement—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, or at least focus on what is most important to your organization.

Start by setting out with your own team what factors make for good customer service, and what kind of things annoy and disappoint your people. Then, have an open and honest discussion with suppliers on how they propose to support your program and deliver a great customer experience. If your supplier brushes off the discussion, then you know you’re talking to the wrong partner.

Hold your MSP to account

It’s not always easy to hold providers to account for poor service. We get that. SLA’s are always going to have holes in them: you can’t measure EVERYTHING. As a service provider ourselves, Workspend often has conversations with current and prospective clients on the frustrations of customer service. Often, it comes down to simple things like being available for service when needed, having calls followed up, and delivering on promises—even down to the simplest things like showing up on times for meetings and calls.

What you should be looking out for are practical examples of positive customer service reinforcement by your supplier. Good customer service doesn’t just happen: it requires a senior management and cultural commitment reinforced through coaching and training.

At Workspend, we’re always happy to show our clients the internal videos and training materials we use to coach our team into the right behaviors. Partly, the customer service standards we deliver are defined by our team themselves. Rather than crudely enforce unrealistic and impersonal service targets, we INCLUDE our people in workshops around what level of customer experience they judge to be acceptable themselves. These outcomes are then reinforced by further coaching and training by an independent third party customer success team, who offer an impartial ‘outside-looking-in’ view of how well we are working as a team.

One of the things that differentiates Workspend in the eyes of our customers is our high standards of customer experience. Our enthusiasm for great customer experiences means it’s a conversation we frequently sponsor with clients and prospects.

Don’t ask, don’t get

Remember, with customer service experience YOU SET THE BAR. If you don’t prioritize customer service as a ‘thing.’ Then don’t be too surprised when your supplier disregards its importance.

Measure everything that matters

Ultimately, SLAs are there for a reason. Working with your supplier, it’s worth investing some time to quality the most appropriate and insightful measures for customer service and build them into your contractual obligations.

Praise and reward positive behaviors

SLAs should not act as a ‘stick only’ solution; there should also be a carrot!

Consider rewarding your supplier (and their people, as individuals) for stand-out-customer service. This doesn’t always have to be a monetary reward. Suppliers are always keen to build evidence of their great customer service. You could, for example, agree with suppliers to run a quarterly or half-yearly survey with hiring managers, suppliers and contractors on customer experience and offer your supplier the ability to publicly publish results.

Additionally, you could offer to recognize individuals employed by your supplier for the great customer service they deliver when performance goes above and beyond.

Final thoughts

As a Managed Service Provider, ‘service’ is in the title of what we do—and, at Workspend, we know it’s important to our stakeholders; not a subject to be not taken lightly.

For Workspend, our successes in the area come from a cultural philosophy that underpins customer service as a priority outcome of our programs. But that attitudinal positivity around the importance of great service is only part of the story. We know much of our success around customer service experience comes down to our hiring strategy. We hunt out those individuals that demonstrate an eagerness to do well for customers, people who show themselves to be passionate about what they do, and driven to go the extra mile for customers.

Like any business, we face challenges from time-to-time in maintaining the high standards of customer experience we seek. However, we would not be ‘as successful’ without the constant sanity check of our clients holding us to account for our performance and levels of service in this area.

If you want your organization to enjoy good customer service, then as a buyer you have a role to play. You need to ask for it, insist upon it (regularly), treat the subject seriously as you would any other business priority—and install effective counters to measure it.

Ian Tomlin is a management consultant and writer on the subject of enterprise computing and organizational design.  He serves on the Workspend Management Team.  Ian has written several books on the subject of digital transformation, cloud computing, social operating systems, codeless applications development, business intelligence, data science, office security, customer data platforms, vendor management systems, Managed Service Provisioning (MSP), customer experience, and organizational design.  He can be reached via LinkedIn or Twitter.